King Edgar making an offering - from a charter granted by the king in 966 AD
King Edgar making an offering - from a charter granted by the king in 966 AD

[Editor. Here the author picks up the tale of Saxon monarchs after the death of Eadred]. Edwy's story is obscure. The young king chose to marry his cousin, a girl named AElfgifu, he having fallen into the toils of her ambitious mother AEthelgifu, though the pair were not wedded till some time after Edwy's accession.

Ugly stories were canvassed about the dame's influence on the boy, who kicked against the decent control of the counsellors, lay and clerical, in whom his uncles had trusted; as a boy very well might do who had fallen under the influence of a foolish and designing woman. Edwy played the prodigal, while his mother-in-law struck vindictively at her enemies.

The result was that Northumbria was in a very short time in revolt, and elected the younger brother Edgar king allowed him to reign in Wessex. But five years after his accession he was dead and Edgar was lord of all England.

St Dunstan
Both Edmund and Eadred had reposed much confidence in Dunstan, Abbot of Glastonbury, who was prominent among those who had set themselves against AEthelgifu. The chroniclers are all on the side of the clerics and it is likely enough that the other party have not received fair play at their hands. But there is no warrant for assuming that their tale was a mere partisan clerical invention.

The outcome of the whole disastrous business was that Dunstan, who had been exiled by Edwy, became Edgar's principal counsellor, and probably the real ruler of the kingdom. In 960 he became Archbishop of Canterbury, and was primate and first minister for eighteen years. Edgar himself ruled till 975, and his reign was a period of consistent prosperity; he had no opportunities for displaying his capacities as a warrior.

Edgar's fleet
The most interesting traditions concerning him personally are that of his state procession on the River Dee, when his barge was rowed by eight vassal kings, and that which ascribes to him the creation of a great fleet of six hundred and forty sail which annually patrolled the seas from corner to corner of the island.

Edgar's legacy
The chroniclers concerned themselves rather with the ecclesiastical activities of Dunstan, who was an energetic reformer, and set him self to improving the morals of the clergy on the approved lines of enforcing celibacy and the general rigour of monastic discipline. Though Edgar had ruled all England for sixteen years he was but thirty when he died in 975.

In spite of sundry imputations against his morals the quiet which prevailed throughout his reign bears witness to his capacity; for those were not days in which a feeble monarch had much chance of peace; even his exceedingly capable uncles and father had had to fight hard to enforce their dominion.

This article is excerpted from the book, 'A History of the British Nation', by AD Innes, published in 1912 by TC & EC Jack, London. I picked up this delightful tome at a second-hand bookstore in Calgary, Canada, some years ago. Since it is now more than 70 years since Mr Innes's death in 1938, we are able to share the complete text of this book with Britain Express readers. Some of the author's views may be controversial by modern standards, particularly his attitudes towards other cultures and races, but it is worth reading as a period piece of British attitudes at the time of writing.

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